2013 New Year’s Resolutions for PR Pros

January 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

By: Casey Schaak

Vollrath Associates is ringing in the New Year as any PR agency should – with some New Year’s resolutions. As we venture into 2013, having survived both the busy holiday season and the supposed Mayan apocalypse, it’s important to look ahead and set both personal goals and professional goals. Keep your career aspirations on track and improve your skills with these four PR resolutions for 2013:

Hone Your Writing Skills

Whether it’s informal employee newsletters, informative customer e-blasts or professional corporate releases, every PR pro knows the importance of developing content and tone to effectively reach the target audience. Don’t lose sight of your audience and don’t get caught up in the monotony of writing projects – develop fresh and unique angles to keep readers interested and informed.daily-writing

Most of us have areas that could be improved – writing style, grammar and spelling, proof reading, you name it! Now is the time to improve weak spots and enhance strengths. Make a list of goals to kick off 2013 as a writing wiz.

Wow with Social Media

Don’t let social media fall flat. Spice up posts with photos, videos, links, and relevant and interesting information that followers will want to see. It’s all about visuals, so start a Pinterest or Instagram account (if you haven’t already) to upload and share photos that will intrigue fans. Above all, keep followers engaged through questions, contests and polls. Social Media followers are your brand advocates – give them something to talk about!

Social Media Logotype Background

Keep Up with Networking

While PR pros are no stranger to networking events, it’s easy to fall into the comfort zone of talking with friends and co-workers instead of branching out. Make it a priority to meet new people when enjoying a lunch, dinner or presentation. Not only can you pick up some interesting tips for the trade, but you will enhance your own speaking skills and meet some interesting people along the way… and you never know when a new business or networking opportunity is around the corner.


Stay on Top of Industry Happenings

We all know the feeling of juggling multiple clients in completely different industries. It isn’t always easy to stack-newspapers-magazineskeep up with everything from food and beverages to technology, transportation, manufacturing and beyond. Kick-off the New Year by refreshing your reading list, daily newsletters and Google alerts. Make sure you have the right clients and the right industries covered – you’re subscribed to the appropriate industry trade magazines and newsletters, the correct daily and weekly papers for your areas and that your Google alerts cover both industry and client keywords. That way you’ll know exactly what is happening when.

With these PR resolutions in mind, along with any additional goals of your own, 2013 is sure to be a success!


VA Takes on the PR + Social Media Summit

October 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

By: Casey Schaak

On Wednesday, October 10, a few of our VA team members spent the day at Marquette University taking a deeper dive into social media practices, policies and trends. The fourth annual PR + Social Media Summit was quiet the success, and the hashtag “#prsms” was even trending nationally on Twitter.

Here are some of the key takeaways from our #prsms experience:

Creativity is key. Content is king.

U.S. Olympian Nick Symmonds kicked off the summit with his own unique social media experience. He auctioned off his left shoulder on Ebay with the intention of displaying the winning company’s Twitter handle on the space during the 2012 Olympics. Hanson Dodge Creative, of Milwaukee, won the auction with a bid of $11,100. 

Nick’s experience showcased unconventional brand building. While the Olympic Committee required him to cover the temporary tattoo during his races, the buzz created around the auction led to free publicity for both Nick and Hanson Dodge. The auction and the tattoo increased awareness and Twitter followers for Nick and Hanson Dodge, and even shed light onto some controversial Olympic rules prohibiting Olympians from recognizing their individual sponsors before, during and after the games.

Balancing Work and Personal Life on Social Media

The Social Media Policy Panel, comprised of Erik Ugland, Diederich College of Communications, Mary Henige, General Motors Company, John Kalter, Godfrey & Kahn, William Caraher, College of Business Administration, and Eric Rumbaugh, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, focused on how companies handle employee social media interactions.

Each employer has its own social media culture. For GM, its policies require employees to be transparent and identify their role within the company when posting or commenting on the internet. They also must say that their opinions are their own, not those of GM, and employees are encouraged to link to approved GM content found on the GM website when necessary. A key legal take-away when it comes to a company’s social media liability is “put it in writing.” Employees are going to be on social media, so it’s important companies have guidelines.

Stand Up for Your Brand

Molly McKenna, McDonalds, presented “Sharing Your Brand Story: Breaking Through Today’s Cluttered World.” Her presentation focused on five social media truths:

  • Truth 1: People have perceptions about your brand.
  • Truth 2: Act of listening and responding can change your business.
  • Truth 3: You never know where the fire will come from.
  • Truth 4: Response can be more important than the situation.
  • Truth 5: We’re operating in a society of continuous partial attention.

McDonalds has learned to deal with negativity towards its stereotypically unhealthy and fried meal options by embracing its brand. Through social media, it creates an emotional brand connection along with authentic and transparent conversations with followers. In response to negativity regarding large soft drink sizes, McDonalds took the stance that the consumer makes his or her own choices. The company has developed a variety of menu options, and the consumer can choose which items and sizes he or she wants.

The Human Touch

Mary Henige, director of social media and digital marketing for GM, showed how GM is engaging with consumers and fans/followers by creating a personal side to the company. Instead of showing buildings and copy about the company, GM has created a video blog on its website that features different employees, showing their work life and personal life. The blog also highlights local owners and dealers. It takes the GM brand and gives it a human touch.

Additionally, the GM Facebook page features “Fan Friday.” Each Friday the page changes its banner photo to display a photo submitted by a fan. By adding a personal connection to its website and social media pages, GM paints a compelling story and engages with its fans on an emotional level.

What is Social Media and Why Should I Care About It?

Brian Moran, small business consultant, gave a compelling presentation on the importance of not just being on social media, but taking the time to do it right. Social media is a great tool for lead generation, customer service, market research, competitive analysis and PR, but if it’s not done right, it’s a waste of time and money.

Here are Brian’s 10 suggestions for social media users:


  • Tweet, retweet, reply
  • Be consistent
  • Avoid politics, religion and tweeting after midnight


  • Make connections
  • Give and get recommendations
  • Join groups
  • Ask questions; give answers


  • Use Google alerts
  • Engage with industry communities
  • Get employees involved, but make sure they know the rules

Social Media for PR

The News and Social Media Panel, with Kati Berg, Diederich College of Communications, Sharif Durhams, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kathryn Janicek, NBC Chicago morning show, Andy Tarnoff, OnMilwaukee.com, and Herbert Lowe, Diedrich College of Communications, gave an inside look at the media’s perception and utilization of social media.

For traditional media reporters and anchors, social media is a conversation. It’s a way to connect with the community and extend and develop their on-air/on-paper personalities. Stories that are covered in print and broadcast can be expanded through social media and the public can engage with the news and join the conversation.

When it comes to relationships with PR, social media is a way to build relationships and set yourself apart amongst the many email pitches the media receives. Just as the social platform adds personality to reporters and anchors, it adds personality to PR pros as well. It is a unique way to find a common ground and connect – reporter/anchor to PR representative.

Winning the Social Media Race

Augie Ray, of Prudential, gave some great insight into the value of social media. By his definition, “social media is a medium where value is exchanged and relationships are created mutually.”

The winner in the social media race is not just the brand with the most fans, but the brand with the most fans having the most meaningful engagement.

As you can tell, every speaker and panel during the PR + Social Media Summit provided a wealth of insightful information. It was a great experience and we’re looking forward to attending the event again next year!

Creating an Effective PowerPoint Presentation

October 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

By: Casey Schaak

PowerPoint has become a staple in the presentation world. PowerPoints are easy to create, update and transport. Not to mention they can be found on almost every computer. But with the regularity of use of these computer-based slides, it’s easy to fall into bad habits and thus, create a less-than-ideal presentation.

Don’t fall into a PowerPoint slump – make the best of this extremely useful presentation tool by following these important content and design tips to keep your presentation clear and effective.


The most important part of a PowerPoint presentation is content. Follow the steps below to make sure you are presenting the right content in a concise way:

  1. Before deciding on the design of the PowerPoint, first define your objective and the key points you want to get across. Also, keep your audience in mind and remember that your presentation must be geared to them – their familiarity with the topic and what is of interest to them.
  2. Create an outline to ensure the messages are consistent and the structure of the presentation is solid.
  3. Limit the content. Follow the rule of six: six words per line and six lines per slide.
    −  Go through your information and narrow down the points so only the
    most important information is on the slides.
    −  Avoid using complete sentences on slides. Cut paragraphs down to
    sentences, sentences into phrases and phrases   into key words.
    −  You can fill in any details during your presentation, but every word you
    say should not also be on the slides.
  4. Keep wording clear and simple, use active visual language and cut any unnecessary words.


Slides are meant to support the speaker, but aren’t supposed to be the main focus of the presentation. When designing a presentation, avoid clutter and establish a professional and consistent layout. Follow the design tips below to create an effective look and feel for your PowerPoint presentation:

Basic Design

  • Create a clear and consistent theme and color scheme throughout the presentation by using a template within PowerPoint, creating your own or using a company template provided for this purpose.
  • Use high-contrast fonts and backgrounds to make text stand out.
  • Keep the background consistent. Complicated backgrounds make it difficult to read the text.
  • Avoid flashy, distracting animation or sound effects. The focus should be on the presenter, not animation on the screen.
    −  If text moves, keep it simple and consistent throughout the
    −  Avoid using movement transitions between slides, or keep it consistent.
  • Always practice your presentation on a large screen, one similar to what you will be presenting on, to make sure all fonts, graphs and images are clear.


  • Use a font that is big enough for the audience to easily read.
    −  Font should be 24-32 point size, with titles 36-44 point size.
  • At most, use only two fonts per slide. One for the title and one for the other text.
    −  Sans serif fonts (Arial or Helvetica) are generally easier to read than
    serif fonts (Times New Roman).
  • Don’t use too many different colors in the text – two or three at most.
  • Avoid all upper-case letters. Upper and lowercase letters are easier to read.
  • Use left or right text alignment – centered text is difficult to read.
  • Use bullets to present information clearly.

Graphics and Charts

  • Graphics should balance the slide, be easily understood and complement the text without overwhelming.
    −   Avoid using more than two graphics per slide.
  • Visuals, such as graphs, diagrams, photos and media clips, can be used to engage the audience in place of text. In this case, use only enough text to label the graphic.
  • Use the same style graphics throughout (cartoon, photographs, etc.).
  • Use clip art sparingly and if possible, avoid using PowerPoint clip art, as this is commonly used and the audience has most likely seen these images before.
  • Charts are a great tool to visually present information.
    −   Pie charts should be used to show percentages.
    −  Vertical bar charts should be used to show changes in quantity over
    −  Horizontal bar charts should be used to compare quantities.
    −  Line charts should be used to demonstrate trends.

Once you’ve established the content, designed the slides and finalized your PowerPoint, make sure to proof read your slides for potential errors and practice giving your presentation.

By following these tips, you are now ready to give an effective PowerPoint presentation – good luck!

Divertimento alla Festa!

August 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

By: Casey Schaak

Ciao amici! This year, the Vollrath Associates team returned to Festa Italiana to offer our public relations expertise. The four-day festival and the weeks leading up to it were jam packed with press releases, alerts, media inquiries and opportunities, as well as some great coverage, if we do say so ourselves. While we were certainly busy with media relations and keeping Festa Facebook and Twitter followers in the know on the latest and greatest happenings, we all had an excellent experience at the event.

From enjoying delicious food, to spending time with the friendly and familiar faces of Festa and watching plenty of entertaining acts and spectacular fireworks, the 35th anniversary of Festa Italiana was a hit with team VA! Take a look at our highlights from the week:


From Italian dancers and musicians, to the Italian Idol contest, opera singers, a surprise country act and even a magic act, Festa provided excellent entertainment that appealed to audiences of all ages.


Phil Vassar was announced as the surprise country headliner for Festa during a special Spiked Island Beach Party at Bradford Beach. (From left to right) Dave Spano, president of Festa, Phil Vassar and Jessica.

Bill Jennaro, Festa board member, joined musicians Michael Castaldo and Frank Tenaglia on Fox 6’s Real Milwaukee with Tony Clark. They even showed off their impressive singing talents on air! (From left to right) Bill, Michael, Tony and Frank.

Team VA joined the fun as the audience danced to the Oldies but Goodies Spectacular on Friday night, after listening to the Ides of March. Phil (left) and Marilyn even whipped out some dance moves!


Of course, we all enjoyed arancini (rice balls) at various times throughout the weekend, as well as sfincione (Sicilian pizza), spinach stromboli and sfingi (Italian donuts). Gelato and vino were also crowd pleasers!

Tiffany Ogle (left), of Today’s TMJ4 Morning Blend, learns how to make pasta melanzani (eggplant) and spiedini with Dean Cannestra, chef and owner of Nessun Dorma and Libiamo restaurants.

CBS 58 caught the action of the cannoli-eating contest. Four-time winner Anthony Paulis took the title again this year, eating a total of 30 mini cannoli.

Bocce Ball

Pronounced “bo-chi” ball (not to be confused with the pronunciation “botch-y,” which means kiss in Italian), this fun and interactive game was available to festival-goers throughout the weekend, with a tournament on Sunday. Also check out the video here!

Prior to Festa, Andrea Anderson with the Journal Sentinel created a video tutorial on Bocce Ball, its history and the rules.


Team VA tried our hand at Bocce Ball. (From left to right) Jessica, Casey, Julie and John.

 For a deeper dive into all the Festa festivities and pictures from all four days, check out the Festa Italiana Facebook page!

Arrivederci until next year!

An Inside Look at the Vollrath Associates PR Approach

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Written By: Casey Schaak

When it comes to public relations, a reliable and successful process can go a long way. A good process helps us serve our clients to the best of our abilities while meeting their PR needs. Our approach combines our strengths and expertise into organized steps, allowing us to effectively tackle any project, from investor relations and public relations, to social media and marketing communications.

Our VA team not only brings years of experience and an array of individual talents to our clients, but an effective PR approach that works. Our four-step process starts with an initial evaluation, dives into planning and execution and wraps up with a review. Here’s an inside look at how our approach remains successful:

The Vollrath Approach

1.    EvaluateImage

Before we get too far, we first need to understand the ins and outs of our client’s current and past programs. We begin our process with evaluating communications programs and messaging. Through effective communication and audit research, we assess the brand messaging and define potential opportunities.

2.    Plan

After we have done our homework, we establish goals, objectives and target audiences. We find the right fit to successfully tell our client’s story and set realistic goals that will result in a measurable return on investment.

3.    Activate

Once we agree on a plan, we put it in motion and refine the details as needed. This is the point in the process when we use our expertise and proven abilities to tell the right story that resonates with the right audiences.

4.    Review

Now that our plan has been put into action, we monitor and evaluate the results. We measure the outcome against the goals and objectives to determine the next steps for ongoing, consistent communication.

While these four steps certainly don’t encompass every element of a PR plan and the work that goes into it, they give a condensed overview of our approach. The VA approach is built around our continuous commitment to helping our clients. We use our resources, experience and knowledge to build a plan that’s tailored to fit the needs and goals of our clients, and adjust as needed along the way. This is how we help our clients tell their story!

Learn more about The Vollrath Approach and check out the Vollrath Services.

Top 11 VA Moments of 2011

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written By: Casey Schaak

With the ringing in of a new year comes reflection on the past year’s accomplishments within public relations, marketing communications, investor relations, events and beyond. While each month comes with its fair share of ups and downs, I’d like to highlight the top 11 Vollrath Associates moments of 2011:

  1.  Winning Awards. Vollrath Associates won an Award of Excellence in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Paragon Awards competition for the U.S. Bank Milwaukee Air & Water Show PR Program.

    Marilyn and Jessica at the Paragon Awards.

  2. Welcoming New Clients. We are excited and honored to have McCloud Services, BizStarts Milwaukee and SPSI as our newest clients in 2011.
  3. Adding to the Team. Within the past year I was lucky enough to join the VA team, starting in February as assistant account executive, and we also welcomed Liz Grams as account coordinator in June.
  4. Celebrating Promotions. In October, Jessica’s hard work and dedication paid off when she was promoted to vice president.
  5. Working with Enthusiastic Interns. Laura Horan, Jon Mattrisch, Whitney Sleiter, Julie Caan and Maura Phares each spent a semester or summer gaining hands-on experience in our PR agency and devoting much appreciated time and effort towards our various projects and activities.
  6. Keeping Busy with Events. The Milwaukee Air and Water Show and Festa Italiana were two of the exciting events we took part in over the summer. We met some great people, tried some delicious food and watched dozens of planes fly through the air, all while helping promote awareness of these events throughout Milwaukee and surrounding areas.
  7. Bringing Hollywood to Milwaukee. This fall, the VA team, in conjunction with Marcus Theatres, assisted famous film director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World) and actor Matthew Felker (Brookfield-native) in debuting their comedy “Balls to the Wall” in the Milwaukee area.

    Penelope Spheeris and Matt Felker promoting "Balls to the Wall."

  8. Spicing Up our Social Media. With Bastille Days right outside our window, we took the opportunity to have a “Where in the world is Phil?” contest on Facebook. Those who guessed his location were put into a drawing and one lucky winner won tickets to Festa Italiana. Phil did a great job hiding!

    Phil at Bastille Days.

  9. Spreading our Knowledge. Phil taught classes during both spring and fall semesters at Marquette University, Marilyn and Jessica presented on investor relations for a class at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Liz and I hosted a group of 10 from the UWM PRSSA chapter. It’s rewarding to get to know students in the area and share our PR knowledge and experiences with them.
  10. Popping Up in the News. Phil provided his insights on persona-based marketing in the BizTimes Milwaukee’s Marketing PR last February. While we are usually pitching our clients’ latest happenings, it’s always nice to see one of our own in the news as well!
  11. Sharing Every Day Successes. From press releases to earnings conference calls, research to writing, newsletters to social media and beyond, each day we experience our own accomplishments and share in the successes of our team and those of our clients.

The VA team celebrating the holidays in our ugly sweaters!

As you can see, it’s been a busy and exciting year for Vollrath Associates and we look forward to what’s ahead for us in 2012! Thank you to all of our clients who continue on this journey with us!

Getting Festive at Festa!

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written By Casey Schaak

Ciao amici di Vollrath Associates! Where to begin with the four exciting days of Festa Italiana? A whirlwind of opera, Ferraris, gelato, gondolas, cannoli, rice balls, vino and the Cake Boss. Sorry Phil, I almost forgot to mention amaretto cream puffs! Oh, and fireworks too! And that’s not even the half of it. The biggest cultural festival in Milwaukee was packed full of delicious food, great entertainment and, most importantly, friendly people.

Did I mention that this was work? The VA team coordinated interviews with various media outlets on and off the festival grounds during the week of Festa, as well as the months leading up to it.  While we faced a lot of heat, a little bit of rain and maybe even some sleep depravity, our team enjoyed getting to know the people that make Festa possible, all elements of the festival itself and, of course, the satisfaction every PR pro gets when an article or news segment for your event pops up in the media.

Check out some Festa highlights as the VA team reflects on our favorite moments:

“My favorite part of Festa was the Anthony Crivello performance.  He has a fabulous voice and seeing the Phantom of the Opera in real life was a very special treat.  It was exciting to see a local resident make it to the big time.  He is very down-to-earth and so appreciative of the opportunities he has had.  Anthony is a wonderful role model for young Milwaukee performers and a tribute to our Italian community.”

-Marilyn Vollrath

Anthony Crivello serenading Molly and Tiffany from TMJ's Morning Blend, while Bill Jennaro and Maria Liber enjoy the music and cannoli.

“I really enjoyed trying different Italian food that I haven’t had before, including rice balls and chicken spedeni. The first ever fashion show was a success as well. As always, I had a great time working with the media to promote this fun and exciting cultural event throughout the Festa week.  And lastly, I enjoyed seeing Pauley drive around in his golf cart every day and making me laugh!!!”

-Jessica Vollrath

The VA team bonding over the delicious Italian food.

“Italy is my favorite place. I like the reminders of Italy at Festa Italiana, including the outstanding food and great statues like David at the entrance. The fashion show and gondola rides were outstanding reminisces of Italy and the Amaretto cream puffs were simply an unbeatable attraction of their own.  I also enjoy the family orientation, and the wall of family pictures, which make this festival a family and hometown event. It is a closely attached group and leaves memories until next year.”

-Phil Vollrath

The VA team exploring the sites and the statues at the festival grounds.

“For me, the best part of the four, fun-filled days of Festa Italiana was the music! This year’s line-up did not disappoint with musical offerings including The Monkees, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, SwedTunes Int’l with the Music of ABBA and countless others. It was a special treat to not only meet the Bronx Wanderers, but Anthony Crivello as well! After hearing Anthony Crivello burst into song on the TMJ4 Morning Blend and again at Festa, I knew I had to see him in his leading role. So, I booked a flight to Vegas, and am eagerly awaiting the show in a few weeks!”

-Liz Grams

Kidd O’Shea from 99.1 interviewing the Bronx Wanderers, an Italian band from New York.

“I really enjoyed getting to spend time out of the office with the VA team whether it was running around coordinating media interviews, riding around on golf carts or relaxing at the Guido Lounge! The foodie in me also loved having the excuse to indulge in gelato and shrimp scampi nearly every day. Overall, the weekend was a great success filled with lots of fun and new learning experiences.”

-Julie Caan 

Jessica and Julie checking out the MSOE Lego replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Personally, I loved arriving at the festival grounds at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, coordinating a band, three food and drink venues and a cultural tent to fill eight television segments for two different news stations. While it might not sound like the ideal way to spend a Saturday morning, I enjoyed the thrill and sense of accomplishment I got when seeing the final video clips. I also loved meeting TLC’s Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro!

Liz and I snagging a picture with Buddy Valastro (TLC’s Cake Boss).

To wrap it up: 6 VA team members spending 4 days (not to mention the weeks leading up to it) meeting dozens of great, mostly Italian, people, working with the media and making all PR activities run smoothly at the Henry Maier Festival Grounds resulted in lots of excitement, learning and success!